Bad Public Landscaping Lessons

by Jenny Peterson on November 19, 2011

in Garden Design,Garden FAIL

I’ve posted before (like here) about taking lessons from public plantings, and this is a lesson in reverse. As in, don’t do this! I’m just going to list the things that are wrong with this so you can avoid the same pitfalls.

  1. The red mulch: Oh, ick. This one might be just a personal preference, but I’ve yet to see an example of a good looking landscape with red mulch.
  2. The white rock: I love rock, but not this kind. This white rock reminds me of the “rock gardens” from the 1970s that were all the rage. My dad created one between our yard and the neighbor’s. If you want to topdress with rock, go for a higher quality that has a warmer hue, and with softer, more tumbled edges. This rock looks like roadfill.
  3. The plant islands: What’s up with putting a little ring of ugly red mulch around each individual plant? This looks like a mine field. I understand wanting to use different materials for visual interest–that’s an awesome idea–but choose your materials carefully and create more of an island bed or “oasis.” That way, it has more impact.
  4. The white tree trunk: I understand that there are times when painting a trunk is necessary to deter bugs, but if you don’t have to do it, don’t do it. It looks like crew socks from when I was in 7th grade gym class.
  5. What you don’t see: I was going through the drive-through so I couldn’t take a number of picks, but elsewhere in the landscape there is a relatively large agave planted right by the sidewalk, with red mulch around it. Don’t plant a big spiky or thorny plant like an agave next to where people will be walking–that’s just inhospitable–and if you have to choose between putting mulch or rock around an agave, go for the rock. Heaping mulch around a xeric plant is a recipe for rot.
Keep an eye out for the good, the bad and the ugly in public plantings in your area–you can learn a LOT when you take a few minutes to see what makes a landscape work and what makes it fail. If you are just driving by, take a pic on your smart phone like I did here, then you can reference it later on. Many of us would look at the landscape above and know that it doesn’t work, but don’t have the experience to know why it doesn’t work. After all, this landscape has minimal plantings, rock and mulch–three elements that I myself have used before, with great results. It’s all in the material choice and the application, so think it through! Happy gardening, and go on outside and get that white rock out of your front yard. Yeah, you–you know who you are.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Desert Dweller / David C. November 19, 2011 at 10:18 am

Right-on, JP. From that photo, did YOU come up to Albuquerque and not say hi? I gag at such things each 1/2 mile I drive here, all in the name of design (free or overpaid artsy LA’s) and “xeriscape”.

Also, many trees need companion plants in any kind of mulch to shade the tree’s root zone, plus their own and companion plant irrigation to establish that tree.

Steph@RamblingWren November 19, 2011 at 10:23 am

I’m sorry, but that is awful. Rock garden from the 70′s – ha, ha. We had one with that white rock in it. I didn’t like then and I still don’t like it now.

Rachel Mathews November 19, 2011 at 10:46 am

Note to self: Stop using white rocks or Jenny will come after you!! ;o)

Jenny Peterson November 20, 2011 at 9:50 am

David and Steph–it is truly awful, isn’t it?

Rachel–if there is a person on Earth who could make white rocks seem relevant and contemporary, it would be you! I bet you’ve designed a garden with white rocks, haven’t you, and it turned out stunning, didn’t it??

Genevieve November 22, 2011 at 11:54 am

Jenny, what an inspiring post. I think I’ll go take some photos of a few local landscapes for my own “fail” post! Love it.

Bill April 16, 2014 at 6:32 am

Love the contrast with the white paint tree truck and the several years old dirt white stones. Not. and whats with the red mulch turning to future mulch nitrogen deficiency. Ok its easy maintance for the first seversal years and then it turns to this. Still think that some of these garden designers arctects should work in the field for many years before sending the application form to become a arctect or simply pay for these simple and regular mistakes. You see it all the time. Nice presented drawings sometimes means that it does not work in reality

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